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Doc River’s Rules for Life

I finished The Playbook on Netflix last weekend — what a fascinating documentary series! It’s genuinely one of the best I’ve ever watched, after The Last Dance, of course. And I’ve watched many! If you’re a manager, leader, or coach (sports or otherwise, like yours truly), you must watch it, study it, embody it, and strongly urge your inner circle to do the same.

I’ll share some of the lessons I learned and reflected on through the featured profiles over the next few days because I found them too useful to ignore. And I’ll start with Doc Rivers, the American professional basketball coach, who shares his “rules” for life from all the years of coaching championship teams.

Rule 1: Finish the Race

Other people’s opinion doesn’t matter as much as your own. It doesn’t matter if they don’t think your goals are unrealistic or that you don’t know what you don’t know. What matters the most is what you believe is right for you.

And if choices inundate you, evaluate each of them until you settle on the one you believe is the best for you. Once you have clarity on that, commit to it and go all in. Or as Doc’s father would put it, “just finish the race.”

That might sound like success 101 (and you know, I hate the word “success”), but most people would rather dabble with the different options than commit.

Rule 2: Don’t be a victim

Achievement and sacrifices go hand in hand. Working hard is a given, but it’s got to be without the pity-party. Yes, you will miss your family, kids’ games, and get-togethers with friends. It’s all part of the package. It’s the price you pay to stay on top of your game.

Life will also throw you curve balls or send you into a downward spiral. And that’s okay. You’re not the victim. You have the choice to roll with the punches and move right along.

Rule 3: Ubuntu is a way of life

I’ve been in love with the word Ubuntu when I first heard it in 2004. It means, “I am, because you are,” and has been my core philosophy for leading teams to success. Embodying Ubuntu has helped me shape and transform cultures many times over with different groups I’ve worked with over the years. It’s that powerful.

One of Ubuntu’s fundamental premises is that the “agenda” is never about you; it’s always “us.” That could mean making sacrifices if the end goal is a win for the team.

Rule 4: Pressure is a privilege

The pressure is a great thing. It’s a privilege. Doc says, “run towards pressure, expectations, and legacy!” And he meant it. He got the management to install a spotlight in the area that shone on a vacant spot in a championship banner row. He indicated that the light would remain on until the team puts another banner at the spot. Now, that’s some pressure.

In my world, nothing productive happens until there’s some pressure. The intensity varies, but it’s always there. The real reason why some leaders outdo others is that they’ve become great at handling stress. It’s what motivates them to perform better.

Rule 5: Champions keep moving forward

Everyone’s a champion! And champions don’t back down or stay down, even if they’re getting hit over and over again. The best among us decide how much to take before moving forward. They know that getting hit is inevitable but moving forward is a choice they make to script victory, eventually, if not right away. Like Brian Tracy says, “inch by inch, everything’s a cinch.”

So, even if you’re losing, focusing on moving forward and closing the gap can bring you so closer to victory than just staying down or giving up. That’s what Doc did in the NBA Finals in 2008 against the LA Lakers. The team was reeling 24 points behind, and Doc suggested that they cut that lead by 5-6 points less each time. And the world saw the team shrink the lead to 18, 12, 8, 4, and 2.

The rest is history as the team, Boston Celtics, went on to win the 2008 NBA Championships.

So, there you have it. “The 5 rules of life” by Doc Rivers. Yes, these are my interpretations of the rules than Doc’s, and if you’re keen to see things from his perspective, watch the documentary. You won’t regret it. I’ll be back with a few more of these rules in the next few days.